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Targeted Assassination: Offensive or Defensive? - 2001-08-31

As violence between Israelis and Palestinians continues to escalate. There has been greater international attention paid to the controversial Israeli policy of targeted assassination.

Earlier this week, Mustafa al Zibri, widely known as Abu ali Mustafa, was killed when Israeli helicopters fired missiles at his west bank office. He was the most senior Palestinian leader to be killed in the 11-month-long uprising. Israel says he was responsible for planning several terrorist attacks against Israelis.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian Culture and Information Minister, issued a warning following the killing. "This crime is committed against a political leader and this will lead into very dangerous consequences," he said.

Arab anger over this most recent Israeli assassination is also directed at Washington, because the Israeli missiles were U.S. made, fueling their view the bush administration is less than neutral. The State Department did criticize the killing, saying it inflamed an already volatile situation. But Jean Abinader of Washington's Arab American Institute, says the U.S. statement did not go far enough in condemning the Israeli policy.

"It really comes down to three words-'rule of law.' If there's any country in the world that has benefited from the rule of law and who have pledged themselves to the rule of law, it's been Israel, and yet this policy is a direct contradiction to that tradition of rule of law. You don't kill people on the basis of allegations," she said. "We have a law against it in this country-an executive order against it. Israel is contravening both international standards of behavior and their own standards of behavior by this policy."

But on the other side, the voices of determination are equally passionate.

"There will be no immunity and there will be full accountability for anyone who involves himself in terrorist activity," said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

And at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, the policy is defended by spokesman Mark Regev. "I think our policy is legally and morally and politically justified. We are striking against a legitimate military target, not against innocent civilians," he said. "There is no Israeli attack against Palestinian targets in any sort of indiscriminate way. We are surgically striking against those terrorists, the terrorist infrastructure that plans and orchestrates very, very tangible physical attacks against Israelis. We are hitting them so that they won't be able to hit us. It's primarily a defensive strategy."

He says the Israeli attack this week in Ramallah would not have been necessary if the Palestinian authority reined in those Israel has identified as terrorists. A point Jean Abinader rejects. "There is no benefit in becoming Israel's policeman in the West Bank and Gaza, he said.

To which Mr. Regev says, "We can't be expected to sit there."

Voices heard, but still not understood, in the confusion and carnage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.